DC allows doctors to prescribe life-ending medications

WASHINGTON — Doctors and pharmacies in the nation’s capital are now allowed to prescribe life-ending medications to terminally ill patients.

The Death with Dignity Act of 2016 became law with the signature of Mayor Muriel Bowser in December of 2016. Now the Bowser administration has announced the implementation of the law in the District.

The city said the law allows terminally ill D.C. residents over the age of 18 to legally obtain a physician’s prescription for medications to end their lives in a humane and peaceful manner.

For a person to elect to end his life legally in the District, the individual must work with doctors and pharmacies licensed in D.C. that are willing to prescribe and dispense the lethal medications.

For doctors and pharmacies, participating in the Death with Dignity program is voluntary.

The city requires patients to make two oral requests to end their life to a doctor, with 15 days between each request. A written request on a city form must be given before the second oral request.

The guidelines also do not allow a person to take the life ending medications in a public place.

The District’s Department of Health will oversee the program. Doctors and pharmacies must report to the department if a patient chooses to receive their fatal prescription.

Assisted suicide has long been a controversial issue in D.C. and around the nation. Supporters said it brings a humane end to an individual’s suffering, while some opponents fear a person could be pressured into ending his or her life.

Even with its implementation, the law’s future remains uncertain.

A spending bill passed by the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee has provision to block the funding of assisted suicides. An amendment introduced by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., would repeal the law.

The provision still needs to make it through the full U.S. House and Senate, and get the President’s approval before it can take effect.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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